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COC braces for boom

Community college enrollment expected to explode in coming years, state study says

Posted: September 24, 2009 11:03 p.m.
Updated: September 25, 2009 4:55 a.m.
On the heels of a state study predicting California community colleges will see massive growth, College of the Canyons officials said this week they expect enrollment to skyrocket from its current 25,000 to more than 36,500 over the next eight years.

"It's clear to the state of California that the community colleges are the job training engines of California," COC Chancellor Dianne Van Hook said.

The California Postsecondary Education Commission study estimates an additional 222,000 community college students statewide are expected by 2019.

The boom comes as students bound for four-year universities seek a more affordable education, and members of the recession-racked workforce return to school for additional training.

Locally, College of the Canyons' fall semester enrollment hit an estimated 25,000 compared to 23,416 students the same time last year. And the school's projections show that COC will have an estimated 33,471 students in 2015 and about 36,500 by 2017.

"(Students) are looking to us because other parts of higher education are really expensive," Van Hook said. "We're affordable. We do what we can with quality."

Enough space?
As enrollment at COC grows, the college is planning ahead.

"Right now, while we're close to capacity, we are still not done building and we will be able to increase the number of students that will be able to come here," said college spokeswoman Sue Bozman.

The Valencia campus, which is not fully built, covers 153.4 acres. Its buildings total 611,694 square feet.

Valencia campus projects, like the expansion of Mentry Hall, will make way for more classrooms and teaching space, Bozman said.
An expansion of the library is also planned, which will then house tutor centers, now located at Bonelli Hall.

"That whole entire floor of Bonelli building will become available for instructional space," Bozman said.

The college's Canyon Country campus, which opened in 2007 on Sierra Highway, covers 70 acres and served about 3,315 students during the fall 2008 semester. It operates out of portable buildings, but Bozman said the college plans to eventually build permanent structures.

Without state funding for growth, however, the college is unable to add faculty and classes to meet the needs of future students, she said.

A lack of funding
The state budget crisis has created a difficult situation for community colleges like COC.

"When people are coming and they need classes, we want to accommodate them," Bozman said. "But there's no funds at all to support the increase in students."

The state has already eliminated growth funding for this year and college officials predict that the trend will continue into next year, Bozman said.

For the fall semester, an estimated 12 percent of classes were eliminated because of state funding cuts.

"We have lots and lots of students on waiting lists who did not get classes," Bozman said. "This is totally an issue of state funding."

Earlier this month, the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office announced that enrollment for the 2008-09 academic year increased by more than 135,000 students at the system's 110 colleges.

Those figures make way for a 4.9 percent increase in students compared to the 2007-08 school year, according to the chancellor's office.

The total number of students enrolled in California's community colleges was more than 2.9 million - the highest enrollment figure in the history of the system, state figures show.

And COC mirrored the trend - the fall semester has hit an estimated 25,000 students, the highest yet.

"We were able to accommodate more students this year than last year with fewer sections of classes," Van Hook said.

At the same time, Van Hook said COC is "aggressively" seeking grant money to continue training and re-training programs to get people in the workforce.

College officials remain on the lookout for future state funding to community colleges.

"I would hope that they would not cut us any further," Van Hook said.


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